After barely averting a cut in funding by a six vote margin in Congress and becoming a focus of widespread criticism for its lack of transparency, the SOA/WHINSEC is once again making headlines due to crimes committed by its graduates.
A recent criminal investigation into the Colombian Army's Third Brigade, has prompted the arrest of thirteen high ranking officers accused of providing security and mobilizing troops for Diego Montoya (alias "Don Diego"), the leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel and one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted criminals.
Two former instructors of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) are among the thirteen. Colonel Quijano, a former commander of Colombia's Special Forces, and Major Mora Daza, taught "peacekeeping operations" and "democratic sustainment" at WHINSEC in 2003-2004.
Over half of the thirteen military officials implicated in the drug cartel protection ring attended the U.S. Army School of the Americas and/or its successor institute, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Colonel Javier Escobar Matinez, Major Javier Isaza Muñoz, Major William E. Ortegon, General Hernando Perez Molina and retired Major Juan Carlos Agudelo received training at the U.S. Army School of the Americas as part of a U.S. funded assistance program to Colombia in the fight against outlaw paramilitaries and drug cartels. All five are now under arrest for collaborating with the drug cartels they were trained to fight against.
In 2006, Colombian military officers from the Third Brigade ambushed an elite, U.S.-trained anti-drug squad in the Valle town of Jamundí, killing ten policemen. The officer who ordered the attack, Colonel Bayron Carvajal, now under arrest, also attended courses at the School of the Americas.
These events serve as a sad reminder of the consequences of the SOA/WHINSEC's policies, or lack thereof, regarding the tracking of its students and evaluating the actual results of the training it provides. The school claims to be a tool for furthering democratic values and human rights in the Western Hemisphere yet the facts show that a significant number of its graduates have consistently engaged in human rights violations and criminal activity.
Colombia ranks number one as the largest recipient of military aid in the hemisphere, with an estimated $584 million dollars for 2007, and fifth in the world after countries in the Middle East. It is also the SOA/WHINSEC's biggest client, with over 10,000 graduates. Not surprisingly, it also holds the worst human rights record and is the most violent country in the region, with an estimated 15 deaths per day in military-related violence.
SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the US Army School of the Americas, under whatever name it is called, through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work.